At the risk of dating myself, I admit Ally McBeal was one of my favorite TV shows back in the day. The show was filled with hilarious storylines about a quirky lawyer working with an ex-boyfriend she still had feelings for. While it’s been more than two decades since I watched her, suddenly I’ve been thinking about Ally and her adventures. Maybe because our surreal world today feels more like an episode of TV than actual reality.
One of the most ridiculous storylines centered around Ally’s therapy sessions. Going to therapy is certainly not ridiculous (I have been on both sides of the couch), but the therapist played by Tracy Ullman used absurd and outrageous tactics to “help” her client. In one of my all-time favorite episodes, as Ally vented about her latest drama, the therapist matter of factly advised:
And while I would never endorse some of her techniques (like using a remote control to play audio of hysterical laughter mid-session or calling a patient “nuts,”) all of a sudden I realized I HAVE been utilizing THIS piece of advice. Without even meaning to, amidst a world pandemic, I have started using my very own theme song to cope with my difficulties. And I recommend you do as well.
How It Happened:
After years of struggling with an eating disorder, I recognize anxiety and depression underly my battle. And nothing can reignite mental illness like a worldwide pandemic resulting in a shelter in place order and the cancellation of school. Add in fear, an unknown future, nonstop news coverage of the rising numbers of death, a dramatic change in our “normal way of life,” and my own fears about loved ones who are “high risk”… and I easily felt my world spinning out of control.
And so it was time to dust off my toolbox and break out any and every coping skill I could. I have limited my exposure to 24-hour news coverage, I have immersed myself into recovery resources, reached out to friends for support, connected with a therapist, and set some much-needed boundaries. And I turned to another favorite coping tool- music. After waking up several days in a row with the familiar feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach, I decided to find a song to play. As I made my bed, the lyrics from Rise Up by Andra Day filled my room. Somewhere in the backcorners of my cobweb filled brain, I noticed a minuscule shift. It was not huge or obvious. More like one tiny rock from the enormous pile of boulders currently crushing my chest had been lifted.
The rest of my day felt insignificant; much like the one that came before it and the one that came after it. But I made a conscious choice to start playing that song every day while making my bed. A few days later, I caught myself humming the song as I buzzed around our chaotic kitchen fixing breakfast for my boys and preparing for another day of involuntary homeschooling.. Again, the ever so tiny shift happened deep within me. And so I continued playing the song while making my bed. Until a week or two later (who knows, my days are all running together now), when I woke up extra grumpy and skipped turning on the song. As I sloppily pulled the comforter over tangled sheets, I was stunned when suddenly, in my head, I heard the lyrics of the song:
“You’re broken down and tired
Of living life on a merry go round
And you can’t find the fighter
But I see it in you so we gonna walk it out
And move mountains
We gonna walk it out
And move mountains”
I laughed at myself (as soon as I ruled out auditory hallucinations) because without realizing it, I had paired making my bed with this song. It is a perfect example of classical conditioning from good old Ivan Pavlov. And it was totally unintentional. And equally magical. As I threw pillows on the bed, I heard more:
And I’ll rise up
I’ll rise like the day
I’ll rise up
I’ll rise unafraid
I’ll rise up
And I’ll do it a thousand times again
It was true. I didn’t want to rise out of bed. I wanted to crawl under it. But Andra Day was singing, in my head, reminding me I could get up. I would get up. For my three children. For my husband. For Andra. And for myself.
And I’ll rise up
High like the waves
I’ll rise up
In spite of the ache
I’ll rise up
And I’ll do it a thousands times again
And so, Rise Up by Andra Day has become my official theme song. And I strongly suggest you find your own song. You don’t have to play it when you make your bed. You don’t even have to make your bed. The key is to pair it with something you do every day. (Psychologists have known about this little trick for years. Pairing a new habit with something you already do daily increases the chances of the new habit sticking). Most importantly, choose a song that speaks to your soul. One that helps lift one tiny rock from the enormous pile of boulders currently crushing your chest. Because we are all feeling the weight of the world right now. And music is one of the most powerful healing tools we all have.
I recently added a second theme song: Living in the Moment by Jason Mraz for the days when getting out of bed isn’t as much of a challenge. I would LOVE to hear from you. What songs inspire you? What songs move you to get out of bed and face the day? What songs keep you connected to your purpose? Please comment below!